The name Pointe-à-Pierre at once gives away a little of the history of its settlement. For the word is French, meaning “Point at the Stones” or Stony Point, and being French does not make it difficult to deduce that the area was settled by the French people who came here under the Cèdula of Population of 1783.
Although Pointe-à-Pierre bordered the popular Naparimas it did not seem to be very popular at the outset, for a few years after its settlement one counted only seven proprietors who were established in the area. Among them were Mandillon, le Fevre, Letain, and V. Pechier. However, these few proprietors were the owners of 205 slaves and 44 people of color. The seven land-owning and slave-owning families comprised 41 persons, and their collective estates contained six sugar mills, one distillery, and three cotton mills.
This region, which was just a little north of San Fernando, was known as Punta de Piedras by the Spaniards, meaning the same thing, “Stony Point,” and in fact it was the incoming French who had translated this name to Pointe-à-Pierre. But although that point or headland was stony the rest of the Pointe-à-Pierre area was so fertile and productive that when the British took Trinidad from the Spaniards in 1797, although its population was only 290, it was an area of importance. On the entry of the British it became of even greater importance and of great attraction, hence the reason that 15 years later (in 1812) the 1797 population of 290 had grown to 846.
The Spanish division or partida was now called quarter and the Commandant of that Quarter of Pointe-à-Pierre, La Source Mandillon, watched over vast areas of coffee and of plantain, and over 200 acres planted in sugar cane. There were still the three sugar windmills that were there in 1797, but there were 23 sugar mills turned by cattle, five mills worked by steam, and no fewer than 24 rum distilleries. These distilleries produced 7,650 gallons of rum. Pointe-à-Pierre was at the time challenging many esteemed sugar areas and as early as 1817 there were such flourishing sugar estates in the Quarter as Plaiance, Concorde, Bon Accord, Plein Palais and La Carriere.
There were many estates in the Quarter of Pointe-à-Pierre, each having its own labour force, and so it was only after Emancipation that the essential Pointe-à-Pierre village took shape. Many of the former slaves abandoned the area altogether after the abolition in 1838, and in 1841 the planter, Lewis Pantin, told a labour enquiry: “There are about 500 squatters at a place called Gasparee, and there is another settlement of squatters nearby, near my estate of Bonne Aventure. There are also numerous squatters settled on the line of road from Concorde to Bonne Aventure.”(Gasparee is the present-day Gasparillo).
This was just about the time Pointe-à-Pierre village took life, around the fringe of Plaisance, La Carriere, and Plein Palais. It was a fascinating area, not only of sugarcane but also of coconuts; however the most attractive thing to all and sundry were nearby hot springs. The hot sulphur springs were believed to be health giving, drawing a lot of people to the area.
In 1849, Lord Harris, establishing counties and wards in place of the quarters established the Ward of Pointe-à-Pierre (20,500 acres) within a county he named for the English queen, Victoria. Pointe-à-Pierre got a railway station in 1882, when the railway was extended to San Fernando. However, it was the area of the hot springs that seemed to attract most of the population, although with the forming of the Southern Main Road with the estate tracks, “the line of road” that Lewis Pantin spoke about in 1841 had become even more crowded. Yet the population of the district was not great. The census of 1841 showed a population of 4,393, for the whole ward.
Between that era and 1912 Pointe-à-Pierre remained an area of peacefulness and yet of flourishing sugar estates. Although one might have said the area was sleepy, the chimneys were always smoking, the sugar mills were always turning, and the rum distilleries were always throbbing with life. The San Fernando wharf, only one train station away, was always stocked high with Pointe-à-Pierre produce. But in 1913 came a big change, a change which was to last for all times. An oil prospecting company calling itself Trinidad Leaseholds Limited bought up all the estate lands to establish an oil refinery.
Pointe-à-Pierre then became the name for oil, for the refinery, although it changed hands three times, has become the most formidable in the region, and the wealth from its products is Trinidad’s lifeline. It is now called Petrotrin, and has made Pointe-à-Pierre a more important place than it ever was.
Copyright NALIS, 2008